Lets play a game. Ready? What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say “rhetorical awareness and user centered design.” Go!
What did you think of?
I couldn’t tell you either, they are rarely addressed concepts that seem confusing and troubling at first. Regardless, they are important concepts you need to incorporate into everyday writing at work, and here’s how.
Breaking it down
Before one can become a master, one must first learn the basics. We hear the word “rhetoric” a lot but don’t necessarily know the definition. Rhetoric is a gift from the Greeks to help an orator or writer reach their audience; it is essentially persuasive writing. If you can master these concepts, or even just begin to incorporate them, your writing will be much more successful.
Remember when your English teacher would tell you to “close read” a passage? You would then determine what the main idea was; the author’s purpose, and key points. That was essentially rhetorical analysis, only this is non-fiction and now you are the author. Whether it is a presentation, or an e-mail you should consider:
- Purpose: Why are you writing and what do you hope to get across? Do you hope to get a project funded? Are you trying to show knowledge in an area of expertise?
- Audience: Who will be reading? Consider also a secondary, or unintended, audience, especially if the document will be publically available because there will be global access to your writing.
- Stakeholders: Much like in business, you need to identify groups or people that will be affected (good and bad) by decisions based on the information in your document.
- Context: What prompted you to write this document? Is there background information you need to include in order to better frame your topic?
Much like a website, the success of your writing depends on functionality and usability. You don’t want your reader to do a lot of work to understand your argument.
- Engage: Grab the audience’s attention; make them believe what you are saying.
- Organize: Structure your writing based on importance: emphasize key qualifications, use headers and sub headers to grab attention and orient the reader to how you want them to think.
- Prioritize: Be concise and keep it short.
If you have read this far you probably get the idea that rhetorical analysis and user-centered design are not mutually exclusive concepts. The key link between the two is audience; they are the most important element of writing. Understanding the needs and expectations of your audience gets easier with practice. Try writing down your purpose, audience, stakeholders, and context before you begin. Focus on the expectations, goals, and needs of the readers.
Knowing your audience
Without an audience, you wouldn’t have a reason to write. Think about the unique expectations, knowledge, and experiences of your audience. To do this, consider breaking down the demographics, like: socioeconomic status, gender, age, and ethnicity. For example, if you are writing for an older demographic, you may not want to use pop culture jargon like ‘dope’ and so on.
Beautifully written prose or perfect syntax may enhance writing, but no one will want to read what you have written if they have to work at understanding your position or your main points. What matters is simple and easy communication. If you can succeed and brand yourself as a proficient writer, then you will be much farther ahead in your career than most. Writing in general can seem like a burden, but it gets easier with practice.